Making dollars out of sense Featured

10:49am EDT October 23, 2001

Her income had been cut by 80 percent.

Yet her expenses remained largely unchanged.

Suddenly single after her divorce in 1988, Angie Hollerich knew she had to make ends meet -- without sacrificing the quality of life for her children, ages 10 and 12.

She found a two-bedroom condominium for $485 a month and decided to take it, despite the fact that she'd already figured she could only afford $395. She had to; she and her ex-husband had agreed neither would move from the Westerville area, where their children had been attending school. Somehow, she'd make the rent payments.

But considering that her $17,500 salary as a YMCA aerobics instructor was just a fraction of the income she had grown accustomed to during her marriage, she was in a predicament.

"After I signed the lease, I went home and cried and thought there was no way I could afford it," she says.

She allotted the bedrooms to her children, and she set up residency in the family room, using laundry baskets as a makeshift dresser for three years.

"Sometimes I was pretty scared," she remembers. "I always wondered how I got my bills paid and didn't have bad credit."

She's come a long way since those days, having become -- of all things -- an investment adviser managing more than $30 million for clients. In fact, she was so successful in the investment arena that after 10 years, she sold her asset management business for a six-figure amount in June 2000 to embark full time upon a speaking and writing career. She's calling her new company Brass Ring Productions Ltd.

Here's how she made the turnaround.

Finding security

Hollerich's first move was to get a handle on her money situation.

"I never balanced the checkbook," she says of her money management during her marriage. "I just always got a balance when I went to the bank."

After the divorce, however, the cushion that had always been in the bank account was gone; she had to put herself on a budget -- and learn to manage her finances -- quickly.

"I was scared, but I always thought, 'That's not going to get me anywhere,'" Hollerich says. "I felt I had the ability to do anything I wanted to do as long as I worked at it."

"A lot of my motivation was seeing how other people struggled, and I didn't want to have to rely on my family. I wanted to take responsibility for myself," she says.

She sought the help of financial planner Tom Harrington, who she knew through her work at the Y.

"Tom educated me and told me why it was important to put money away: You should put money away because you're not going to want to work forever," she says.

Therefore, even though money was extremely tight at the time, she used 40 percent of her cash settlement from the divorce to pay off credit card debt -- and invested the rest. She deposited some in a money market account for emergencies, bought some life insurance, started an IRA to decrease her taxes and invested in a mutual fund.

She wanted, as Harrington had explained, to have her money work for her.

Meanwhile, she scrimped.

She was open with her children about the lack of money. They would sit down with her to make choices about whether they wanted, for example, to eat macaroni and cheese for a while to have money for other things. Already they knew the reality of the sacrifice; they had to leave their Catholic schools to attend public school because the tuition costs were simply beyond their new budget.

"There would be some times when I'd do my budgeting and I'd have $129 and I hadn't done my food shopping for the month," Hollerich says.

But somehow, the money always stretched to cover the necessities.

Hollerich says her credit report never showed a late payment. She also managed to teach her children the same skills. They saved 50 percent of whatever money they made after they started working at about age 14; both bought their own first cars.

Realizing she had a knack for sales -- and that living within her means would be easier if the dollar figure on the top line of her budget were a bit larger -- Hollerich took a job selling Tradecard, which boosted her pay by more than 40 percent.

Harrington, however, recognized Hollerich's skills could take her even further and that her contacts from the YMCA would serve her well; he advised her to get into the investment business. She started her own asset management company in 1990, becoming an independent contractor with Harrington Asset Management.

"I went from the Y at $17,500, to $25,000 selling Tradecard, to $10,000 my first year in this business," she says, describing the ups and downs of her salaries. "But I stuck with it. I'm very bullheaded."

That same year, she moved into a new home. Even though the timing was bad, she didn't want to miss the opportunity. So she bit the bullet and borrowed $5,000 from her parents as a down payment and leased the house with an option to buy it.

"I didn't like the idea of having to borrow money from my parents, but it was the catch-22," she says.

The belt tightening she learned during her first three years after the divorce served her well. She went to cosmetic counters to look for free make-up samples instead of buying her own supply. She always went to the store with coupons -- and a list that she stuck to so she wouldn't override her budget. Even now, she continues the habit she developed of shopping at clearance racks and thrift stores.

"It's amazing what you can do if you have to," she says. "We have so much stuff in our lives that we forget it's OK if you don't wear mascara."

Keeping the safety net

In 1994, Hollerich remarried.

"There were two reasons we married. The first motivation was we were in love. The second was his pension and his health insurance," she says, noting her husband takes lightly her jokes that she married him for money.

In reality, however, her remarriage did improve her finances, as her husband paid half the rent, electric, food and gas bills. They kept their money separate, considering her business and her obligation to her children.

Meanwhile, Hollerich's business -- and therefore her income -- continued to grow every year; in 10 years, it increased from $10,000 to the six-figure range.

Still, her experience made her cautious. She kept her emergency fund and she continued to have money taken out of her paycheck every month to invest toward retirement. She started a simplified employee pension plan, purchased additional life insurance because her liabilities had increased as a business owner, and opened an annuity for tax-deferred growth.

She also made moves to enhance her expertise, obtaining an insurance license and more accreditations in the financial realm.

Because of her experience, Hollerich often has been called upon to speak about financial topics to businesses and organizations including Columbia Gas, Cardinal Health, the City of Columbus and the Center for New Directions.

In 1995, she wrote her first book, "Grab the Brass Ring of Financial Security," so she could help people who couldn't afford to pay financial planners. By March 2000, she'd published her second book, "The Weight & Wealth Factors," to show the parallels between weight management and financial fitness.

She enjoyed the speaking engagements and book promotions so much, in fact, that she decided to make them her full-time job.

"I could've -- unethically -- stayed in the (investment) business and spent less and less time on my clients' portfolios," she says. "I felt I wasn't doing them justice."

When she sold the business to her associates, her money management came into play again. She arranged to have the money paid to her over three years so she could use it until her speaking career got off the ground.

Essentially, she's starting over with very little income, but knowing how to take control of her finances leaves her without the fears she had after her divorce.

"I'm going to be successful again," Hollerich says. "I'm building the foundation now for a business I can take into retirement and work as often as I want." How to reach: Angie Hollerich, Brass Ring Productions Ltd., 337-2204 or www.brassringpro.com

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.